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Vesty targeting fast start from Saints on Saturday

We sat down with Northampton Saints’ Head Coach, Sam Vesty, ahead of the Club’s Heineken Champions Cup clash against European champions Stade Rochelais at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend…

Q: How much are you looking forward to the challenge of Stade Rochelais at the weekend?
SV: It’s a good challenge for us as a Club because we didn’t have the best of starts against Munster, but we actually played some pretty good rugby thereon after. We want a performance, that’s what we’re striving for because it’s disappointing when you’re off the back of a couple of average performances – I’d say average at Exeter, and then below-average start against Munster. We just want to be better and this is a good opportunity for us to go and be better, and getting into the Challenge Cup is a great thing to aim for. There’s plenty on this game.

Q: It won’t have escaped the coaches’ attention that Northampton Saints haven’t scored a point in the first half of the last two games, what do you put these slow starts down to?
SV: The frustration is we’re making some simple errors that when we’re switched on, we’re not making. We’re just giving teams a bit of a leg up and Munster was a great example of giving them a leg up, then giving them another leg up, and then actually helping them over the line, pretty much. That is really frustrating because then you can see that when we’re sharp and moving really well, there’s no chance of a leg up. We’re not giving them anything and we’re putting our game on them. The biggest frustration is the fact that we’re not swinging many punches in the first half, we’re kind of dipping our toe in to see whether it’s hot or not, and actually we need to get out there and be chucking and be swinging. Fundamentally, we need to attack straight away, rather than just be testing the water.

Q: What has been done to try to eradicate this problem?
SV: We’ve looked at it and we’ve made a few little changes that we’re focusing on, but I would also say that there are plenty of times where we have started well and maybe had a poor patch at a different time. There’s no silver bullet, we need to get in the right mindset and go put our game on them, that’s the key.

Q: England announced their squad for the Six Nations this week and there were five Saints named, including Fin Smith. How pleased were you for him that he was selected?
SV: I’m very pleased for him. He’s come to us and just tried to be a better rugby player every day, and that’s all you can ever ask. I think he’s obviously impressed the right people at England and it’s good to see. I know Steve Borthwick met him and Fin is older than his years and he came across really well, as he always would, so I’m really happy for him.

Q: Alex Mitchell was another call-up, is there any surprise at the Club that he’s only earned one cap so far?
SV: He’s played really well for a few years now, but also your selection is going to be based on how you want to play. Perhaps it wasn’t necessarily the predecessor’s favourite method of playing, but I can see all the positives of what he can do. He’s got some areas he needs to work on, and he’ll do that, but I’m just so chuffed for him that his hard work and his constant threat for us over the last couple of years has got him the recognition.

Q: We’ll switch to one of Saints’ overseas players, James Ramm, who was named cinch Player of the Month this week. Are you starting to see the best of him after his delayed start to the season?
SV: He couldn’t train with us for a good while, and that was disappointing for him after he came over because he wanted to make an impact straight away. Obviously, he had to wait, but I’ve been really impressed with him. He plays physically, whether that’s attack or defence, he has a hunger that you can’t just teach. You’ve got to be that sort of person that wants to get better, and he’s also got a very good aerial game.

Q: He seems to have combined really well with Tommy Freeman as well when they’ve played together…
SV: What those two do really well is they move around quite a lot, so you see them turning up in the middle of the pitch, you see them on each other’s wings, you see them swapping with Furbs [George Furbank] sometimes. We’ve got lots of good back three players and we’re very lucky to have those guys. What they do well is they complement each other, and George in the middle perhaps isn’t making the scintillating breaks that maybe Freemo is making, but he’s had a massive part in those. I think they work really well together and complement each other’s skills.

Q: How close is James Grayson to a return, after he had his protective boot for his foot injury removed?
SV: He’s had his boot taken off and he’s running around now. He’s going to be joining in the next few training sessions, so it will be good to see Jimmy knocking around again after a good while out.

Q: Just a bit more on Stade Rochelais, they have a few big players out injured at the moment, but you must still be expecting a tough test?
SV: You know what they’re going to deliver; they’re going to deliver a power-based game, and they’re going to be fast when they want it fast, but slow at other times. We want to get our game onto the pitch, but I go back to being disappointed over the last few weeks with us not throwing punches. We need to get out there and chuck punches – metaphorical punches, obviously – and just get really stuck in and attack them with our game. 

Q: You mentioned Saints trying to get into the Challenge Cup, just how important to the team is it that they’re still in Europe over springtime?
SV: At that time of year, you need to be match fit, whether you’re playing in the Challenge Cup or you’re still wating for your Premiership games, so it is vital. What we need to focus on is playing well and we want a performance. If we perform and we focus on that, we’ll give ourselves the best chance of winning the game and we’ll give ourselves the best chance of getting into the Challenge Cup. 

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